Player: A Secret Baby Sports Romance(3)By: Aubrey Irons
I nod. “You’ve got my attention.”
“It’s where the real money is, buddy.”
I snort and raise my hands up. “Well? Why aren’t they knocking?”
Derek turns, snagging the gossip magazine lying on the bar, and tossing it at me. “That’s why.”
I grin as I look down at the headline in my hands. It’s two days old, and I’ve of course already seen it, but it’s still making me crack up.
My “shenanigans”, as Derek put it when the story first broke. My “predilections towards fucking my own shit up,” I believe were his exact words. I glance down at the paparazzi shots - then ones of me leaving the club with that girl that night, followed by pictures of my Maserati crashed into the side of that Starbucks on Vine about twenty minutes later.
“No one got hurt, the place was closed.”
He gives me a look.
“Derek, it’s fine, she was eighteen.”
I can literally see the temperature of Derek’s face rising.
“She’s the junior commissioner’s daughter, dip-shit.”
I grin as I take a big pull of my whiskey, thinking about that night and that hot little mouth. “Well she should learn to keep her hands to herself in moving vehicles, Derek.” I shake my head. “I really don’t see how it’s suddenly my fault-”
“I know you’re not really that fucking stupid, Taylor.” Derek’s glasses are back off as he rubs the bridge of his nose again. “Junior. Commissioner’s. Daughter,” he says, annunciating each word.
“Well, what the hell is he doing letting his daughter hang around NFL players then?”
“For fuck’s sake, Austin,” he shakes his head. “You’re not hearing me. Clean your shit up, or you’re going to get shut down faster than you can say minor leagues.”
I snort. “Please, with this arm?”
“People have been blackballed for less.” Derek puts his glasses back on and gives me a stern look. “Don’t fuck with these people, Austin. This isn’t college ball where everyone’s going to hold your hand, and jerk you off, and let you get away with murder. These people hold your paychecks, and your future. You gotta learn to play ball with them. Besides,” he pulls his phone out of his pocket. “As much a nightmare as that one is, we’ve got bigger problems.”
He slides the phone my way, but it only takes one glance down at the tabloid site headline for my face to sour.
“Derek, you know that’s bullshit.”
He glares at me. “Is it?”
I frown as I glare down at the article, at that condescending, knowing grin on the blonde girl’s face.
“I never touched her, Derek, so unless she’s claiming immaculate conception-”
“Austin, she could say the father is an alien, or Elvis fucking Presley, and it wouldn’t matter. People are listening to her, and bullshit or not, that stink is going to rub off on you.”
I swear into my glass.
“Look, we can deal with shit like this, but only if you clean up your fucking act, man. If you’re strutting around like you’re the Mick Jagger of pro football, you’re never going to get away from shit like this.”
I frown as Derek’s serious face finally gets to me, and the weight of what he’s saying finally starts to sink in.
“Fine,” I grumble. “Fine, I yield. Teach me your ways, wise one.”
I sigh as I down the last of my whiskey. “So what the hell do I do?”
Derek’s frown slowly turns into a small smile. “You’re not gonna like it.”
He grins. He’s enjoying this. “The media team and I came up with something that might - uh, soften your image a little. Make you more family-friendly and more viable to product endorsements.”
I no longer like where this is going.
He shrugs, that shrug that says he knows I’m going to hate what he’s about to say, but he’s going to say it anyways.
“You need to settle down.”
I groan. “Yeah, dude, we’ve established that I need some image work, so what’s the fucking plan-”
“No, Austin, you need to settle down.”
I frown, not really getting what he’s trying to say. “Derek, what are you-”
“You need to get married, pal.”
I laugh as I turn and raise my empty glass at the bartender for another one. “Yeah, definitely.”
“Research shows it’s amazing for public image, Austin, and the endorsements are going to fall into your lap.”
I slowly turn to him, my face falling. “Jesus Christ, you’re actually serious aren’t you?”
“It doesn’t even have to be real, Austin.”
The bartender slides the whiskey in front of me, but I’m barely aware of it as I stare dumbfounded at my manager.
He shrugs. “This happens all the time with big name players. Look it’s just for image, I’m not saying you have to actually get married. But you do need the appearance of it.”
“A fake marriage.” It feels ridiculous to even say it out loud, like I’m some sort of English lord negotiating a land dispute or securing my lineage.
I swear. “What fucking century is this?”
“The one where you make a shitload of money by listening to me.”
I slug back a hefty swig of the booze, feeling like the walls of the bar are starting to close in a little. “So I fake-marry some gold-digger.”
Derek quickly shakes his head. “Oh, no, nothing like that. We’ve already put together some eligible candidates.”
“Eligible candidates?” I swallow another third of my glass, feeling like I’m going to be sick. “Do these women have fucking resumes for this shit or something?”
Derek looks at me plainly. “Of course they do.”
“Jesus fucking Ch-”
“You need someone who fits the part,” Derek rattles on. “Someone classy, someone with poise - nothing fake or plastic, like your usual.”
I groan, shaking my head and reaching for my glass as I look past Derek, when the door to the bar opens, and she walks in.
And damn, what a walk.
She moves like she was born in those heels, the little back dress painted onto her body like it’s a second skin. It’s not slutty, or skanky at all, she just looks goddamn classy as fuck in it - like some sort of movie star.
And in this town, that’s actually hard to pull off.
Her long dark brown hair is pulled back over one shoulder, and those sparkling, crystal blue eyes flit briefly across the dimmed room before she just sort of floats towards the other end of the bar.
The world suddenly goes still, and I grin.
This is exactly the type of distraction I need right now.
“Austin, you need someone wholesome, someone cultured - someone unknown and outside the public spotlight,” Derek drones on, oblivious to the fact that he’s completely lost the war for my attention.
She moves with elegance, like she some sort of royalty or something. Head held high, shoulders back as she glides towards the bar. I watch, utterly ignoring whatever Derek is saying as she smiles easily at the bartender, those perfect pouty red lips pulling back across a dazzling smile as she tucks a strand of hair back behind her ear.
The handful of whiskeys and the total lack of anything to eat since breakfast is going to my head, but I’m focused like I’m about to rattle off a play on the starting line of a game.
“Goddamnit, Austin, we’re not done here.”
Derek is swearing as I pat his shoulder, my attention firmly on the girl at the end of the bar.
“Let’s put a pin in this, buddy.”
“Austin, for fuck’s sake-”
“Yep, sounds good man.”
Derek says something else, but I’m not even listening anymore as my eyes suddenly narrow on the yuppie looking prick in the suit jacket leaning against the bar next to her. I can feel my jaw tighten as I see him slide close to her, and the look on her face as she glances around the room.
I don’t know shit about this girl, or her situation, or what’s even really going on with her and that guy at the far side of the bar. And I know damn well even as I move down that way that getting involved is the definition of Derek’s whole “predilections towards fucking my own shit up” theory.
But those eyes, and those lips, and that damn creamy skin of her neck and shoulders has me on autopilot.
This is a fucking terrible idea.
“So listen a sec, I gotta ask you somethin’.”
I groan for the fifth time in as many minutes, looking up to glare at the douchey looking guy in the open-neck dress shirt and sports coat. For the fifth time, he flashes me what I’m sure he truly believes is his most charming smile, which would admittedly be slightly more charming without the bit of food stuck between his teeth and the stale beer breath.
I tighten my lips at the man with the slicked-back hair who seems hell bent on ignoring every single social cue in the world as he leans against the bar leering at me. “What.”
He grins widely, like he’s been waiting for this moment. “Were your parents thieves? Cause honey, they stole the stars outta heaven and put ‘em-”
“In my eyes - right. Wow, I’ve never heard that one,” I say dryly, cutting him off. I reach for the martini in front of me and take a large swallow of it, feeling my eyes water as I force it down. “Un-amusingly, my father was actually a thief.”